Use your Body Weight to Prime your Movements + Build Strength.
Resistance training, for me, is a way of life.
I love the way it feels to move weight through space, to increase my body’s awareness of itself, to learn how to adapt and overcome a challenge that I might not *know* if I can complete at its outset, to improve my self-discipline, to understand how my joints move and how my muscles fit together, to implement a plan to accomplish a goal, and to feel empowered through the sweaty moments of hard work.
Many trainers and writers out there will insist that their preferred modality of resistance training is the “right” way to go about it. Bodybuilders criticize powerlifters. Strength & conditioning coaches press for more athletic-style training. Crossfitters and bodybuilders argue all over the comment section of the internet. The list goes on and on.
The hilarious thing about this is that many people revert to the same playground argument, calling each other names and seeing things only in black and white. The not-so-hilarious thing about this is that it leads to more confusion than ever, keeping you stuck right where you are, as you have no idea which program to pursue next, since all of them seem to have something that is pretty terrible about them.
Well. I have news for you: like just about everything in life, there are pros and cons to each style of resistance training. Not one single program is “right”, although many are better-suited for specific goals or populations. Barring any limitations or injuries (or, even better, taking them into consideration), my best advice is to find something that you will be consistent with, do it regularly, and get better at it. Like we’ve covered, finding joy in movement should be Priority 1A- that way you can build skill, increase the intensity, and keep the strength (and body change!) goals coming, going, and leveling up.
One thing I have noticed consistently in my years as a trainer, though, is people stepping under a barbell (or other external load) before they’re quite ready. My background is in biomechanics, so I cringe every time I see someone with a super-flawed movement pattern step into the squat rack, put the bar way too high on their back, have little to no lat engagement or glute activation, step back, and squat, going a quarter of the way down and wrecking their lower back and knees, just for the sake of saying they squat 405. I just… I can’t.
A few weeks spent on bodyweight training will increase our mobility and our awareness. Proprioception, or our body’s awareness of itself in space, is vital to lifting. If you remember the SRA curve discussion from last week/know the basic overload principle, we need to exert appropriate demands on our muscles to cause both energetic and mechanical adaptations to lead to body change and/or strength gains. Using the appropriate weight- not too heavy, not too light- will allow this to happen most efficiently. I don’t want to spend 8 years in the gym because I’m using too light of weight to cause muscular damage, but I also don’t want to destroy my joints because I’m using something that will hit that critical level in 3 reps. Balance/Goldilocks/sweet spot. Being able to self-correct form based on feel will allow us to determine if the weight we’re using is appropriate, or if our form is poor and we need to lighten up and retrain the movement pattern before continuing.
Increased proprioception will also prevent injury: our inherent or acquired strength in our muscles cannot be utilized to its full potential without decent proprioception; if the strength is there, but our muscles aren’t coordinated correctly, we are working at a less than ideal level and increasing our chances of injury. If we can feel that our spines are out of alignment or our hips are shifting or our shoulders aren’t in the right place, we can correct before the forces on the joint are too much to bear, causing a collapse, strain, or tear.
Better proprioception will also improve posture, which has a wide range of benefits, from better digestion, better sleep, less pain in joints, and better ability to produce force when lifting (and, therefore, bigger gains). A quote from Philadelphia University volleyball coach Tim Moyer:
“The better your posture is when you’re standing, sitting, or lying down (classified as static) and when you’re moving (classified as dynamic), the more force you will be able to both produce and absorb. This is because posture directly affects stability. If the body doesn’t feel stable, it won’t allow you to produce maximum force, because your protective mechanisms kick in. If you have good posture, on the other hand, you have better stability and thus the body will allow greater force to be produced.”
Spending a few weeks in bodyweight work also has emotional applications: we can do these workouts in our homes, at a hotel, or outside in nature, experiencing both a calming effect and greater consistency, as we’re more likely to actually *do* workouts we enjoy and can feasibly complete. Bodyweight workouts are easily applicable to activities of daily living: it’s not too difficult to see where a deep, properly-braced squat translates to correctly bending down to lift a box while moving or to pick up your child to play.
Mobility is crucial in bodyweight training; these workouts are meant to be functional, closely mimicking the movement patterns of daily life. Of course, without a good base of good posture and proprioception, we may be reinforcing faulty movement patterns, so filming yourself, using a mirror, or even finding a coach is a good idea to ensure quality movement.
While not a substitute for using external loads if your goal is hypertrophy or strength gains, bodyweight resistance circuits can elicit body change similar to weighted circuits. With the right intensity and a consistent schedule, a few weeks (or months, if this is your game) spent in bodyweight training will improve your posture and proprioception, thus increasing your strength by teaching your body to use its muscles more efficiently and by finding the most efficient movement pattern to complete an exercise.
I’ve attached one (shareable!) graphic of one of my favorite bodyweight circuits. Just like last week, I’d love it if you completed it and shared it or a sweaty selfie to social media using #StrongBySteph! I’ll be checking throughout the week to hear your feedback- I want to know if you were surprised at how tough bodyweight workouts can be, if your joints felt better, and if you enjoyed it.
As an added bonus, my favorite posts + insights from last week and this week on Instagram will receive a prize in the next newsletter, so stay tuned!
Yours in better alignment,